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Veloria Nanze The Ws ‘ e of Cumulative Voting to Make Their Voices Heard BY ROBERT BRISONETTO WHEN VELORIA Nanze was elected to the Atlanta, Texas, school board May 6, she became the first African American ever to serve on the school district’s policymaking body. She was also another sort of pioneer: the first African American in Texas to be chosen by an election method called “cumulative voting.” She is not likely to be the last. While cumulative voting has been around for more than a century, its presence had not been widely recognized in this country until 1993, when President Clinton nominated a legal scholar named Lani Guinier to head the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department. Guinier was attacked as an affirmative action “Quota Queen,” initially on the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal, and then by conservative senators. Clinton withdrew the nomination, in part, he said, because of Guinier’s previous writings advocating “semi-proportional” representation schemesincluding cumulative votingto reduce minority vote dilution. The implication was that these proposals were somehow “radical” or otherwise un-American. Responding to these charges, Guinier wrote a book about her proposals \(The Tyranny of and toured the country to explain how in fact far from being radical, proportional voting systems could em Robert Brischetto, Ph.D., is a sociologist living in Lakehills, Texas. His study of cumulative voting, described in this article, was conducted at the Hispanic Research Center at the University of Texas at San Antonio, with support from the Murray and Agnes Seasongood Foundation of Cincinnati, the Center for Voting and Democracy of Washington, D.C., Attorney Jose Garza of San Antonio, Poverty & Race Research Action Council of Washington, D.C., and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund of Los Angeles. Co-investigator was Richard Engstrom, Professor of Political Science at the University of New Orleans. power all votersfrom racial or ethnic mi norities to frustrated white maleswho felt shut out by winner-take-all elections. CUMULATIVE VOTING is not a new invention, but rather one of several traditional methods available to any electorate interested in increasing the effective representation of minorities. When voters tend to cast their ballots along racial lines, a system which requires a candidate to receive the support of a majority or even a plurality of voters has the effect of locking out minority voters from electing even one candidate of their choice. Since the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed, the most common solution to minority exclusionor “vote dilution”has been the creation of single-member districts and the drawing of some of those districts to provide a numerical majority for a racial or ethnic minority. In most major Texas cities and school districts, districting systems have been adopted either to resolve or avoid litigation under the Voting Rights Act. But in recent court cases, the prac tice of so-called “racial gerryman dering” to create majority-minority districts has been successfully challenged, generally by conserva tive plaintiffs opposed to greater minority representation. By a 5-4 vote on June 29, the Supreme Court \(in de clared a black-majority congres sional district in Georgia illegally drawn to segregate voters on the basis of race. The decision could mean that future plaintiffs chal lenging such districts will have a better chance of winning, if they can prove that race had been the predominant factor motivating a district’s creation. Since most dis tricting systems were adopted to address racial discrimination, it stands to reason that most major ity-minority districts were drawn with race as the guiding principle. In a North Carolina congressional case decided in 1993 \(Shaw v. the Supreme Court had found districts drawn along racial lines into “bizarre” shapes may constitute illegal racial gerryman dering. Similar congressional cases have been brought in Florida, California, Geor gia, Louisiana, Illinois, Texas and New York. A federal district court in Houston found that predominantly black and His panic congressional districts in Houston and Dallas were also bizarre in shape, and last month’s Supreme Court decision is ex pected to have a bearing on the Texas casewhich the high court has agreed to hear next session. Other lawsuits have threatened to undo state legislative redis tricting in jurisdictions throughout Texas. In the wake of Shaw and other cases it inspired, voting rights advocates are looking for solutions that would provide better representation for minorities without resorting to what the courts have called racial gerrymandering. And the search for alternatives to districting has engendered a long-overdue national debate on more basic questions, such as how well our democracy works and how we choose our elected officials. Despite constitutional protections for the 6 JULY 28, 1995 orlo0AkAlmreovowWpor: